For the first time, BREW traveled to south to the infamous South By Southwest, affectionately known as SXSW. Our mission? To observe and connect with people who could help us explore the idea of BREW transformin
g into a Boston Area North by Northeast!
You have to give us credit, we were thinking big.
The adventure began with one obvious snafu with this year's SXSW: weather
The start of the festival was marred by cool (ok, cold) temps and rain. With a good portion of the activities outside in parks and parking lots, this threw a wrench into the plans of many. Not unlike the cialis without prescription cold temps in October that invaded BREW 2011, it was obvious that the sunny, warmer weather would have produced a much happier, active and engaging crowd. Driving rain can certainly curtail your desire to "stop and chat" on the street corners.
Given it's unpredictability, weather is one very fickle partner when it comes to celebrations of this nature. The sun did emerge by Sunday, and the warmth arrived Monday, which helped to turn the spirits of the attendees around.
Next observation: approachability
Austin, Texas is a very friendly city. On every street corner was a business owner, SXSW volunteer or SXSW veteran ready to lend a hand, answer a question or point you in the right direction. The key to a successful visit was to approach people and to be approachable. If you overheard an interesting conversation and wanted to join in, it was okay to do so! Lean over and introduce yourself. Sit down next to strangers and ask, "First time here?"
Even with a large percentage of the people with their heads down following GPS maps on their phones or tweeting their latest experience, the overall atmosphere was welcoming and congenial. As one "local" put it, "Try putting tens of thousands of people in any other large city and fights would be breaking out everywhere. Here, if someone bumps into you they tend to stop, ask if you are okay and genuinely apologize for the mishap." He may be onto something about southern hospitality.
After the sun decided to shine, and the people began to mingle EVERYWHERE, came the actual celebration.
SXSW, like BREW, is a series of events spread out throughout the downtown area over several days. SXSW shuttle buses cart people around the city from location to location depending on what they want to participate in or attend. If you were adventurous, and had comfortable shoes, Austin was a pretty walk-able city, which was nice.
Unlike BREW, which is open to anyone and any topic related to entrepreneurship, events are selected by the SXSW committee and a master schedule is printed both on and offline. Panels, keynotes and sessions touch on subjects from non-profit to education, social media to mainstream media, to film and music and technology. Access is granted by wearing a SXSW badge the entire time – in fact I think I slept in mine just to be sure I had it on me! There are volunteers in red SXSW t-shirts at every hotel, convention or conference center and outside on the sidewalks. Where they were NOT was at private parties which seemed to be pretty exclusive this year – if you didn't have an invite or show up with someone who was associated with the host then you were out of luck. Except for MassChallenge at the BingLot! They let everyone in – bravo!
One of my favorite sessions included only 8 people in an intimate "meetup" discussion around location based applications. Another favorite was a panel of advisors (including Gary Vanyerchuck and Tim Ferriss) who were getting real with entrepreneurs and start ups about finding and wooing advisors for their companies. It was very entertaining.
My biggest frustration was that so many sessions I wanted to attend overlapped with each other that I often had to make the tough decision of picking one and hoping it was what all I wanted it to be. If your second choice wasn't held in the same location as your first, it was tough to get from place to place in time.
Can we do a Boston NXNE? First off, there already is a NXNE held in June in Toronto. It's a film and music festival mimicking SXSW. So the question becomes, can we get BREW to the size and popularity of SXSW? We'd certainly have to move it to a warmer month
to accommodate outside events, performances and gatherings but overall I think we are up for the task. Question really is, are you ready to join us in making it happen?
Mark your calendars – BREW 2012 will be held October 15 – 26! Look forward to seeing you at the celebrations in October.
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